College Realignment: How Nebraska's Admission To Big Ten Affects Northwestern
First, to our Cornhusker rivals, welcome to the Big Ten.
Also, to rehash something that sprung up prior to the 2000 Alamo Bowl, Northwestern University is NU; the University of Nebraska at Lincoln is not NU (UNL seems to make more sense), despite recent attempts to take that abbreviation for themselves.
In any case, on to the analysis of what Nebraska's admission to the Big Ten means for the conference and, specifically, Northwestern.
The first thought that likely comes to mind for Northwestern fans is the awful experience in the 2000 Alamo Bowl, where the Big Ten co-Champion 'Cats were crushed under a national title caliber Cornhusker squad (they were the preseason No. 1 that year and went to the national title game the following year, albeit under a firestorm of criticism).
Fortunately for the Wildcats, Nebraska no longer runs the option and NU has actually begun playing defense; with these teams destined to meet in conference play sometime within the next few years, Northwestern will finally have a chance to wash away that bitter memory.
In terms of a fit for the conference, one couldn't do much better than Nebraska.
Athletically, there is no doubt that the Cornhuskers are a perennial power—particularly in football where they are tied for the third most wins in FCS college football history (note that numbers one, five, and six are already Big Ten members: Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State, respectively).
Academically, Nebraska is a solid fit, as they are already members of the Association of American Universities (AAU) and have a solid reputation (they are currently ranked 96th in the US News and World Report 2010 National Universities ranking, just below the lowest current Big Ten members: Indiana, Michigan State, and Iowa, who are tied at 71st).
Geographically, they are also a great fit, positioned just west of Iowa City and southwest of Minneapolis.
Nebraska's reputation and regional/national following will allow the Big Ten to bring in more attention and to solidify the presence of the Big Ten Network (BTN).
By going to 12 members, it also gives the conference the option of adding a monetarily lucrative conference championship game that would extend the season (something that many Big Ten coaches have requested) and finally help decide a sole champion of the league (no more co-Championships).
While Big Ten Commissioner Delany has quashed previous suggestions about adding a conference championship, it would be very difficult to avoid it at this point, not only competitively (I don't see an 11 game conference schedule working), but also financially (that game would bring in a lot of money).
In terms of history, Northwestern has played Nebraska just four times ever, and the 'Cats sport a 1-3 record. The only win by Northwestern came in the only Evanston meeting, a 19-7 win in 1931. Besides the loss in the aforementioned 2000 Alamo Bowl, NU also lost in Lincoln in 1974 and 1902.
Times have vastly changed now, though, with Nebraska down a bit from where they stood through the 1980's and 1990's (albeit not as far down as where their previous head coach took them), and Northwestern becoming a consistent contender in the conference.
This could make for an interesting series to add on to Northwestern's slate, along with very competitive recent histories against other "Big Ten West" members (Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota).
Speaking of conference divisions, it seems fairly clear that the conference, as currently constituted, lends itself to be split into East and West divisions as follows.
East: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and Indiana.
West: Northwestern, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska.
Barring some strange rotating scheme, this seems like the most logical choice and would enhance Northwestern's on-field rivalries with many of those teams in the West. Also, seeing a Big Ten Championship Game is intriguing, even if it does lead to some controversy (see the Big XII in the 2008 season).
Nebraska seems like a great fit for the Big Ten and will most likely prove to be just that.
The next question, though, is what will be the conference's next move?
In an interview last weekend, Delany indicated that the conference is willing to make moves in phases, with this potentially being just one of multiple expansions. The potential for a 14 or 16 member league exists, and the Pac 10 seems intent on blazing that path by adding the Big XII South (with Colorado in place of Baylor).
It will be interesting to see when the next phase occurs and who it involves, particularly if the Big Ten can finally snag Notre Dame, who appear to be holding out for independence as long as they can.
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